Dope Body, a band certainly not breaking into the Billboard top 100’s, yet signed to Drag City (home to the earthly Gods: Royal Trux, Six Organs of Admittance, Howling Hex, Sir Richard Bishop ++++) come rumbling through town on a Thursday night, set up their equipment, proceed to melt everyones face off, and what was the total count of attendees? 21 tickets sold.
A band who is hyped all over the world. A band who was even in Sunrise and Sunset´s concert listing as the number 2 show to catch in October. And yet 21 people knew enough about them to strangle themselves from their homes and walk to The Gun Club and pay 100 measly coins to watch them play their first show in Oilandia. A few days later (a SUNDAY?) they played at a venue outside the city centre of Gottberg, attending the show? Over 100 fans.
I could go on for twenty seven pages with detailed accounts of how failed shows have corresponded to booking budgets plummeting south of the border in this town. This is not a case of high-risk bookings but more a drive to understand why this town is so slow in catching onto waves of music that seem to be readily received in Suicidal Alcoholic Land, Blonde Fashionistas Land, Volcano’s & Valium-ville and in some regards, Red Sausage Land.
Marshall Allen, who played with Sun Ra for over 40 years, performed at Azul for 40 empty chairs and 8 full ones. Mercury Rev flew over to The Workshop after their appearance at ATP to play for 42 people, performing a piece they had only done a handful of times before. Legendary Pink Dots brought years of touring experience, and a merch table larger than most record stores to a threadbare crowd at The Gun Club (17 or so) who all stood gobsmacked in the centre of the floor reeling from what they had witnessed. The show of the year. 17 people. Zeni Geva, ZENI FUCKING GEVA played to 50 people. FIFTY? Staggering.
My point is not only about how poor attendance’s are in this city, but how few people seem to care about bands that truly can be classed as iconic or legendary. it seems 400 will flock to Jane Doe to see Black Mountain, 9000 to see Black Lips at The Island, and yet when Thee Oh Sees or White Hills roll into town you’d be lucky to hit 90, if that. Yet in Geezacity, Olaf Palme, Whoredom these bands play large venues to media frenzy and interviews galore from television, radio and magazines.
Here, no hard press writes a damn word about the shows, nobody cares to interview them, and booking jurors from the biggest festivals in Oilandia don’t even bother asking for a Guest List to check them out?
Help me here.
I know the argument of Vikingstads size has to be taken into consideration, but surely if mathematics was the culprit then why would Gottberg slay Vikingstad year in year out in attendance’s AND quality of bands they book? I have had to say no to probably 40 bands in the last 3 years that are cult bands to a handful of people in this city (The Spits, Sun Araw etc) based solely on the fact that the budgets would be blown. Even with a 400 euro guarantee -what American band can afford to drive the 4 hours from Gottberg, or 8 from Stumpholm for any less than that?- we struggle.
Based on the fact that the break even will ultimately lie somewhere in the high 80’s and most of these bands will sell between 30-50 tickets and deliver a show worth a thousand times more than seeing the latest Pitchfork band stumble around trying to see through their clotted hair on the big stages of Rocksfalling and Central Stages. Its a frightening prospect for Vikingstad when more and more clubs, and bookers, get told from the guys above that the budgets are getting stricter and the appetite for risk is diminishing. We are moving away from the territory that made Vikingstad so vibrant and healthy just a couple years ago. The Workshop closed, Nightmare Avenue, Praise Fires. All in the space of a year. I saw David Kusworth at Nightmare Ave doing a tribute to Nikki Sudden, I saw Wire at The Workshop.
These shows, these venues (along with Up Yours!) will remain as only a memory in someones concert history, and a place they enjoyed a few piss-ups over the years. Every band I have spoken to is sad to hear The Workshop is gone. But based on the priorities at stake these days owners are left with precious few options. Yes, shows lose money, Yes, some of them A LOT. But shows bring a reputation and an atmosphere to your bar or club that money could never buy. They create a literal buzz. People come early excited to see the band, they start looking at the bar as a place which “gets it”.
On weekends I am positive the numbers go up due to the amount of people who will go back there after seeing a show there. The basement is open for the staff to earn some money, the sound-man, the band-host. The bar sells product. Bands come in, play amazing shows. Yes, sometimes you lose 4000kr on an amazing band, but can’t you see that as an investment too? How much money do Norwegian bar owners spend on superficial crap like new paint jobs, new doors, new dishwashers when the old ones work fine. They see that as an investment in the bar-club, but why is the music not seen as that too? Isn’t that a huge part of what makes a place popular for the right reasons.
A lot of the blame has to be squared at the media. Public television in Kjøttbullar-land regularly shows documentaries about Albert Ayler, Pentagram, Sun Ra, offering the public an insight into small clusters of music that otherwise could elude them. The newspapers and magazines are pro-active at bringing up-and-coming, as well as old and forgotten musicians, to the forefront. They have a passion for the avant garde, not a lackadaisical embracing of the useless.
Take Soundstation for instance: A topical program run by music-passionate journalists who are hell-bent on providing cutting edge resources for the further enabling of Oilandians to hear bands fresh out the oven? No. Lazy, obese men who would rather cultivate their beards and interview the dregs of the local environment that we all hate, than peer a little under the covers and find a true band or two lying there waiting to be discovered. In the past, the Island festival did it’s best to include some preposterously cool names to their fold, in the vein of Boredoms, The Jesus & Mary Chain, My Bloody Valentine, etc, but standards have slipped as economic returns are valid more than the reputation. In turn, the Island festival resembles a cold day in Ibiza rather than an underground festival in Oilandia.
Again, Cash is King, however when headliners begin to be drafted from the Billboard top 10, then shouldn’t someone seriously take a rain check and punch themselves in the gut? You can still run a successful festival and not have to pander to the kind of apes who come crushing through the crowd with six cartons of wine strapped to their bodies like a colombian drug mule, nobs peeking out of unzipped pants, bleary eyed like the day they exited their mothers hoo hoo, smears of kebab running down their flaccid chins as they butcher people in an attempt to stand up front for a band they’ve never heard of, so they can turn around to their shared-brain-cell friends and talk about banging chicks while we stand there trying to focus on the one good band that day .(I will, however extend an olive branch this year and say kudos for Rodriguez, Goat and Electric Wizard! Someone is doing their job.)
Another avenue of blame has to be the landowners who have clawed away the prime real estate in the city and seem intent on filling their coffers to the demise of all that is sacred or profane. Rents swell far beyond the reasonable proportions of sustainability, and when you add a badly attended week or two of great shows to the equation you can see why businesses are stuttering. Instead the Government invests heavily in pathetic displays of Idol “Talents” who fill city squares to the brim with their tasteless facile garbage. I guess its the same everywhere, but in Berlin the Government actually decided to lower rent in the artistic strokes of the city to be able to preserve what is a vital organ in the decaying corpse of many big cities. If the bigwigs here did that I would tattoo the flag on my forehead.
One obstacle that lies in the way of achieving full houses, and a healthy bar intake, is the simple reason of economics. People bitch and moan about not having money to pay for a show, yet spend five times that in the bar. Cause beer is beer. Music is something you download. How about if show days the beer was cheaper, 40 Kr for a pint until 10pm. Would the punters be dragged away from their vorspiel couches huddled around a stereo listening to the latest Moon Duo record while swigging cheap vodka? Perhaps. It`s worth a try at least.
For a country famed for its vikings who raped the world and brought terror to small hillocks in England, why don`t we grow a pair of Scandinavian bollocks and put our necks out on the line for the underground music scene. Give some more funding to sustaining small venues, give them a cash flow to take a few risks now and again instead of seeing the same bands play Wurstland, Suicidal Alcoholic Land and Kjottbullar Land and skip us here in Oilandia. It`s a trend that is becoming a bit worrying. Let`s not allow it to reach breaking point, because then the only thing to look forward to next year will be a visit to the immigration office to seek permanent residency in another land. Oh the terror!